Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute revealed that healthy seniors’ immune system may hold the secret against cancer. The researchers suggest that elderly people who are older that 80 years of age were most likely to have defeated cancer in their lifetime due to the capacity of their immune system to build efficient antibodies to neutralize cancer cells before developing the disease.
To unravel the ‘wellderly’ secrets as healthy adults aged 80-plus are known, the research team started to screen their DNA retrieved from blood samples, which included all the cells present in their blood, such as white blood cells. The data allowed the team to identify a signature of a successful immune system battle against past cancer cells.
The team focused on triple negative breast cancer and observed that when exposed to the “immune library” generated from blood samples of wellderly, a protein within triple negative breast cancer cells was recognized by a specific antibody within the wellderly collection. Since the protein recognized was part of cancer signaling pathway, “This could be a driving pathway in this aggressive cancer, an indicator of where to look for therapeutic targets,” noted the study’s lead author, Dr. Brunhilde Felding, associate professor at the Department of Chemical Physiology, The Scripps Research Institute.
The team hypothesized that, just as it happens during a pathogenic infection when the immune system can generate antibodies to neutralize the infectious agent and build memory cells ready to attack in case of re-infection, the same could apply to anti-cancer therapeutics.
As Felding noted in a press release, “If there were aberrant cells at some point in a person’s body, but a noticeable cancer never developed, the immune system likely coped with those stray cells, and the antibody memory would still be there years later. Finding an effective therapy for these types of breast cancers is one of our main goals in cancer research.”
Specifically, the team discovered that the protein recognized by wellderly antibodies was Apolipoprotein E, or ApoE, suggesting that antibodies against ApoE may hold a promise as a targeted therapy against certain highly-expressing ApoE cancers.
“Overall, the concept of exploring the immune system is very promising. The fact that the wellderly blood donors are in their 80s means that their immune memories are very rich,” added Felding.